Mary’s Song

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, and holy is his name.”  Luke 1: 46-55

Mary was bold to sing about God:

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

Today as we hear these magnificent and powerful words both read and sung to us, I invite you to consider the following questions:

“How is God calling you to sing new lyrics to Mary’s song?”

“How are hope, peace, joy, and love being birthed in you this Advent season?”

“How is the Spirit moving within you, such that, in this Advent season and in the New Year, your soul may ever more fully magnify God?”

Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, is a welcome contrast to the hyped-up commercialism that is the dominant theme this Advent season.  Mary’s song is an invitation to approach Christmas with a slower, more contemplative pace.

Her song contains shockingly radical words placed at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.  How differently might we understand the meaning of Jesus’ birth if Mary’s song was more well-known?  Too often, we skip or skim Luke’s first chapter to reach the more-beloved chapter 2, which begins with the census:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed …”

And it continues until the shepherds,

“find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

The Christmas story has, over time, too frequently come to have a sense of ‘preciousness.’ In the sweetness of this story, we can miss the radicalness of the claim that God is found, not as the royal child of a queen, but as the son of an unmarried peasant:

“For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”

As a teenager in a religiously-conservative small town, how stunning is it that Mary finds the courage to sing:

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.”

Even more important, Mary’s song is an overture to the Gospel of Luke as a whole. Her lyrics set the tone for Jesus’ radical and controversial ministry that is to come:

“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

In contrast, the Christmas season leaves too many still hungry, and too many even further in debt.

Mary’s song is a hymn of praise; this hymn offers praise to God for the surprises of God’s providence.  As we listen to Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, let us ponder in our hearts how Mary’s words offer a life-giving alternative for celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Originally, Mary’s song was likely an independently-existing canticle inspired by many different verses from the Hebrew Scripture.  Her Magnificat both directly quotes, as well as alludes to, parts of Psalms, Job, Micah and Deuteronomy, as well as Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel.  Luke likely used this song in his Gospel because it provided such a powerful thematic prelude for his Gospel.

The Magnifcat begins with the Latin words, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” which translates, “My soul magnifies God.”

The most prominent word in Mary’s song is the word “magnificat,” which translates as the word “magnifies.”

Mary’s soul magnifies God.  Mary was able to magnify God because she was humbly open to the unexpected new life God was birthing within her; she invites us to echo her prayer in a verse just preceding today’s passage.

“Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38)

I can’t help but think of Paul McCartney’s song, “Let it be.”

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

This song begins with Paul saying that when he finds himself in times of trouble, “Mother Mary” comes to him.  When I first heard this, I immediately thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but Paul’s mother was also named Mary, and she died when he was a young boy; Paul has said in interviews that when he wrote the song he was thinking about his mother.

“And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

The words “let it be” do not mean to just relax about our problems and accept all the bad around us.  It is more like, “let it happen” – let some new world, a more peaceful world, become a reality.  “Let it happen!”

Mary, the mother of Jesus speaks to us:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

As we listen to Mary’s song and enjoy today’s beautiful music of orchestra and choir, may we allow our souls to be uplifted by Mary’s open-hearted willingness to partner with God in birth and new life!

Today let us ponder in our hearts Mary’s willingness to magnify God, and her boldness to sing with confidence that God:

“Has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
Has brought down the powerful from their thrones;
and lifted up the lowly;
Has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”

Those words are calling us toward new, life-giving ways of celebrating Jesus’ birth.

How is God calling you to sing new lyrics to Mary’s song?

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

We are being called to sing new words to Mary’s Song, lyrics of hope, peace, joy, and love, both during this Advent and Christmas season, as well as into the New Year, so that our souls and our daily lives might ever more fully magnify the Lord!

“Magnificat anima mea Dominum”

“My Soul Magnifies the Lord!”

Amen!